A 17-year practice at city meetings in Roswell is coming to an end.
On June 12, at the city’s Administration, Finance and Recreation & Parks Committee meeting, the Roswell City Council voted to stop providing transcriptions of City Council and other city meetings.
The vote was close, passing with a 4-3 margin. Those who opposed the move and wanted to keep providing transcriptions included Mayor Lori Henry and council members Michael Palermo and Marcelo Zapata.
“Our citizens have an expectation for this,” Henry said. “We have set the level of communication with our citizens and I do not support taking any level of communication away from our citizens.”
Roswell is a bit behind in keeping up with modern technology. It is the only city in north Fulton County that provides transcriptions of meetings and it is one of just two that doesn’t livestream meetings, along with Sandy Springs.
“There’s 600 cities in the state of Georgia and nobody else does this, there’s probably a reason why,” said councilman Sean Groer, who voted in favor of discontinuing the transcription service.
The city said it hasn’t previously offered a livestream of its meetings because it didn’t have the equipment to do so. But that’s changing this fall. Roswell hopes to have a livestream up and running by then.
“Our new fiscal year begins July 1, so we will begin the purchasing process in July since funding for upgrading the video equipment was approved in the upcoming budget,” said Julie Brechbill, a spokeswoman for the city of Roswell.
Alpharetta, Johns Creek and Milton all livestream and provide archived video from city meetings. Roswell, since 2001, has uploaded audio and a transcription of each meeting to its website, and for the past “six or seven years” has provided archived video of city council meetings, Brechbill says.
Audio from Sandy Springs meetings are available upon request, according to city spokeswoman Sharon Kraun. The city does not have any plans in the near future to implement livestreaming or video.
The decision to end the transcribing of meetings in Roswell began with City Manager Gary Palmer, who decided to cease the service in February. The two part-time transcriptionists employed by Roswell were reassigned other duties in the city clerk’s office. The city was spending $46,000 annually to provide audio and transcriptions from meetings.
In March, Zapata brought the issue of transcribing back up and the city staff began a study on the cost, viability and practically of transcribing each meeting.
“The video is fantastic, but it’s not all… We might see it down the road, more cities following our example, hopefully,” Zapata said. “Having this practice for 17 years, now is not the time to kill it.”
City staff found that Trint Transcription Software cost $120 for 10 hours per month, plus $12 per hour for every hour after, but that the technology was “simply not at a point where this could be a viable option for the city,” according to Palmer.
City staff also found that hiring a court reporter or stenographer for each meeting would cost the city about $60,000 per year. The International City Manager’s Association and the Alliance for Innovation told the city that transcribing and publishing audio of meetings is not identified as a “best practice” in municipal government.
Roswell did not identify an exact date for when livestreaming will begin. Until then, it will continue to upload audio and video of every meeting.